The Buffalo Bills’ defense had very little to be happy about at the conclusion of the 2017 season, but one area that seemed to be a bright spot was their 3rd and 4th down efficiency. According to Football Outsiders, on 3rd and 4th downs the Bills’ defense ranked No. 6 overall and No.7 against the pass on DVOA.
Much of their success had to do with the stellar play by their secondary, but the coaching staff also did a good job of designing plays to run on these critical down-and-distances. Third down pressure calls are usually created on a week-to-week basis and are designed to attack the tendencies of the upcoming opponent.
During the week the scouts and coaching staff meet to discuss the upcoming opponent. At that time, all of the opponent’s tendencies are laid out, including common pass protections by the offense. That information is used to design a specific set of plays to attack weaknesses of those protections. Typically, when these plays are being drawn up, the blitzes and pressures attack the ‘man side’ of the protection, which is the side where the running back may be expected to help in pass protection.
Wild Card Playoffs vs. the Jaguars
In the first week of the 2017 NFL Playoffs, Leslie Frazier’s defense was very good against the Jaguars’ offense. The Bills held the Jacksonville offense to 2-12 (17%) on 3rd downs. The unit registered two sacks, two QB hits, and 11 QB hurries, but stout defense wasn’t enough to beat the home team, as the Bills went on to lose the game 10-3.
In the fourth quarter, down seven, Frazier and his staff dialed up a very nice play call. They sent out a Nickel Odd Front defense to combat the Jaguars’ 11 personnel. But the defense put six defenders along the line of scrimmage, which caused Blake Bortles and the offense to change the pass protection. On the snap, Frazier sent a Fire Zone Blitz, which is a zone blitz from the field. The primary blitzer was Cornerback Leonard Johnson, a defender who was not accounted for by any of the Jaguars’ blockers, but who was supposed to be accounted for by Bortles as a hot route or sight adjustment.
The pressure from the left by linebacker Ramon Humber and defensive end Jerry Hughes causes Bortles to climb the pocket, and he forgets that he must account for the blitzing cornerback. Johnson hits Bortles as he is attempting to throw the pass to his check down, Leonard Fournette. The play is ruled a sack-fumble, and the Jaguars were forced to punt the ball.
But for a better understanding of how Buffalo attacked Jacksonville’s pass protection, step into the Cover 1 Film Room: